October Big Day

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American Redstart at Possum Long Nature Preserve in the city of Stuart yesterday morning.

I joined a field trip organized by Audubon of Martin County. We didn’t see too many birds, even though migration is underway. Also, fifteen people trying to sneak up on birds is kind of a lot.

But we did learn more about the history of the nature preserve and the good spots and individual trees for seeing birds.

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A few years ago, the edges of the freshwater ponds at Possum Long were cleaned up and restored. Wading birds like the Great Blue Heron are finding their way there, slowly but surely.

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Warbler watchers.

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The American Redstart rarely holds still!

Here is our checklist, posted by group leader Robin Potvin: Oct 6 Possum Long.

Yesterday was the first October Global Big Day.  I decided to contribute a bit more and popped over to the south end of Hutchinson Island to watch birds for half an hour at Sailfish Flats in late morning.

Here is my CHECKLIST for that. Note to self: go at low tide next time, so there are birds on the sandbars too.

It was neat to spot a migrating Peregrine Falcon but I had the most fun watching a couple of kingfishers chasing each other and screaming their raucous calls.

Later in the afternoon I was in my backyard with the dog and spotted a pair of Bald Eagles high overhead, moving just fast enough to the southeast that I knew I had no time to run inside and grab my camera, just enough time to watch and enjoy.

 

 

Baby food

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Gray-headed swamphen and chick at Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach yesterday afternoon.

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Ever since I first saw these marsh birds a year ago at Lakeside STA I have hoped to see another.

Blogged Oct. 2017: New bird: escaped swamphens thrive in Florida wetlands

If you crossed a small purple dinosaur with a backyard hen you would get the Gray-headed Swamphen. They do run around (seemingly on top of the water) like sleeker, more athletic chickens. Their feather colors are beautiful.

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Look at those magnificent feet and crazy-long toes. Good for walking on wetland vegetation.

The adult grasps a blade of grass and bites off a piece.

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Porphyrio poliocephalas is an escaped nonnative that’s been making itself at home in South Florida since the 1990s.

Porphyrio is the swamphen or swamp hen genus of birds in the rail family. The genus name Porphyrio is the Latin name for “swamphen”, meaning “purple”.

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Feeding the chick.

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That is adorable.

 

First visit to Sailfish Flats

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A boardwalk through the mangroves leads to a view over the Indian River Lagoon and the shallow sandbars known as Sailfish Flats. The boardwalk is across the street from Bathtub Reef Beach. (And within my 5-mile radius.)

Location…

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This was my first visit here. I stopped by this eBird Hotspot this morning at 8 a.m. and watched birds for 15 minutes.

Here is my eBird checklist. I forgot my binoculars so I couldn’t ID the terns on the farthest sandbar. Next time!

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First bird was a White Ibis.

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A young Reddish Egret flew in from the north and landed on the railing near me.

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I suspect this is the same bird I saw on the ocean side on September 20: LINK.

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One guy was coming back from fishing. It was 86 degrees and a bit windy, but the wind was from the east so we were a bit protected on this side of Hutchinson Island.

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The egret flew out to the flats and started its fishing dance.

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I didn’t see it catch anything, but it was pretty to watch.

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Master fishing-bird the Osprey did catch something.

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It was immediately harassed by another Osprey, something I haven’t seen before.

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Maybe it was a young Osprey begging for food from a parent?

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Still hopping around out there.

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American Bird Conservancy…

The Reddish Egret stalks its prey—mostly small fish—more actively than other herons and egrets. The birds first locate their quarry by sight, then the dance begins. They dash, lurch, and zig-zag after their prey, often holding their wings over the water as they hunt. This shadow-casting strategy is thought to reduce glare and help the egret more accurately sight and spear its prey.

I also saw, but did not get great photos of: Green Heron, Snowy Egret, Brown Pelican, a couple of terns species flying over, and Laughing Gulls.

Field trip to Hawk’s Bluff

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Early birders at Hawk’s Bluff, Savannas Preserve State Park yesterday morning just after 7 a.m. We saw 28 species in 2 hours and 22 minutes, in a one-mile walk on sandy trails. Here’s our eBird checklist.

The field trip was organized by Audubon of Martin County and led by Roy Netherton, who was knowledgeable and passionate about this special area of old sand dunes and scrubland, oak hammocks and freshwater marsh along Florida’s Atlantic Coastal Ridge.

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A Brown Thrasher made an appearance.

The theme of my better photos this day: Birds On Snags! Hawk’s Bluff has plenty of standing dead trees.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

It can be tricky to glimpse a Brown Thrasher in a tangled mass of shrubbery, and once you do you may wonder how such a boldly patterned, gangly bird could stay so hidden. Brown Thrashers wear a somewhat severe expression thanks to their heavy, slightly down-curved bill and staring yellow eyes, and they are the only thrasher species east of Texas.

This was only the second time I’ve seen a Brown Thrasher. I love the cinnamon color above and bold spots below.

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Hawk’s Bluff lived up to its name when this young Red-shouldered Hawk flew to this spot, mobbed by grackles who settled on nearby trees and kept up their noisy complaints.

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It was great to be walking with an expert birder who could tell us what we were looking at, and listening to. My usual method is take photos, ID at home and then read about the bird.

My fall resolution: more guided field trips!

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Roy said young hawks like this one take some time to learn how to hunt and they have a high mortality rate. So we all stood there feeling a bit sad for this little guy who seemed not to know what to do about the cackle of grackles calling in reinforcements.

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Red-shouldered Hawks soar over forests or perch on tree branches or utility wires. Its rising, whistled kee-rah is a distinctive sound of the forest. They hunt small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles either from perches or while flying.

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Grackle on a dead tree in morning light, with a freshwater basin marsh beyond and thunderstorms to the southwest.

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This male Boat-tailed Grackle was quite shiny with iridescence.

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To see Boat-tailed Grackles, head to the southeastern or Gulf Coast and look for long-tailed black birds around marsh edges, boat launches, and parks. They often walk around boldly on long legs with their tails cocked up, searching for food. It is also common to see Boat-tailed Grackles perched on roadside utility wires. If you still can’t find one, head to a fast food restaurant in a beach town and scout around for discarded French fries—you’re almost sure to find grackles there.

Ha ha, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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Boat-tailed Grackles breed abundantly in salt and freshwater marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They are closely associated with saltwater and are rarely found more than about 30 miles from saltwater except in the Florida peninsula, where they occur across its breadth.

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It is not breeding season, but the males were displaying anyway. Just keeping in practice?

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The harem mating system of these grackles is unique to birds in North America, though it’s shared by oropendolas of the American tropics. Individual males defend clusters of nesting females from other males. Only the high-ranked males, having established their status through displays and vigorous fights, get to mate in the colony, although DNA evidence indicates other males manage to mate with females away from the colonies.

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Grackles are pretty much the mascots of this section of Savannas Preserve, with their boldness and high visibility.

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Roy told us that the higher of two displaying males is generally the more dominant.

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Dominance is also signaled by the head up, beak in the air.

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“I’m the man.”

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Here comes an upstart.

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I believe these were Common Grackles.

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Roy and another member of our group who is a plant expert pointed out a field of native lupine. There was just one flower, but during bloom time it is a spectacular field of flowers, and right along the trail.

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The trail is mostly about this wide and we were advised to keep an eye out for coral snakes. Gopher tortoises are sometimes seen. Roy saw a bobcat and kittens along the trail once, he told us.

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Prickly pear cactus, another native. When we left the trail we were cautioned to step carefully, mostly to keep from harming delicate lichens.

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Roy told us about a pair of Bald Eagles that had been nesting for many years on the other side of the marsh. Eventually they obliged and flew into binocular range.

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We saw Mourning Doves and Common Ground-Doves on our walk. I’m pretty sure this is a Common Ground Dove. We watched and listened to three of them in a tree earlier.

A dove the size of a sparrow, the Common Ground-Dove forages in dusty open areas, sometimes overshadowed by the grass clumps it is feeding beneath. Its dusty plumage is easy to overlook until the bird springs into flight with a soft rattling of feathers and a flash of reddish-brown in the wings. These small, attractive doves are common across the southernmost parts of the U.S. from California to Florida.

That’s bird #187 for me, on my blog sidebar!

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I only got one pretty-bad photo of the flitting Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, of which there were at least four, probably more. I have seen them in winter near my home in Sewall’s Point.

A tiny, long-tailed bird of broadleaf forests and scrublands, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher makes itself known by its soft but insistent calls and its constant motion. It hops and sidles in dense outer foliage, foraging for insects and spiders. As it moves, this steely blue-gray bird conspicuously flicks its white-edged tail from side to side, scaring up insects and chasing after them.

Roy said it’s a good bird to know in the Savannas because it will often be in a mixed foraging flock and you will notice (or hear) it first, then see the other species.

Migration should be ramping up soon, with warblers and others arriving on the scene. Roy said he uses Birdcast to keep track of migration in real time.

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Exciting moment when some large terns flew over. One was a Royal Tern, a local species, but then there were three Caspian Terns, vocalizing with raspy, loud calls.

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They are only in this area in “winter” or non breeding season.

As large as a big gull, the Caspian Tern is the largest tern in the world. Its large coral red bill makes it one of the most easily identified terns throughout its worldwide range.

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As I’ve recently started to learn my terns, I’ve been keeping an eye out for Caspians. But these were high enough and just passing over that I wouldn’t have known what they were without our bird guide.

This is a new bird for me too, #188.

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We also saw old friends, like this Blue Jay.

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A small rainbow to the west.

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And we conclude this photo essay with yet another … Bird On Snag! A young Red-bellied Woodpecker with no red on its head yet.

I will be back to this location again soon. It’s just 6.5 miles from my house.

Here is the eBird Hotspot to review all birds that have been seen there: Savannas Preserve SP- Hawk’s Bluff Trail. 163 species year round, and 393 checklists (as of today).

Annoying bird friend

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Birds and people at Chastain Beach a few mornings ago.

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White Ibis seems interested in this Willet.

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Willet seems a bit annoyed by White Ibis.

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Hey, wait for me!

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What does White Ibis want?

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Willet wants to be left alone.

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The following persisted right around me and into the rocks looking toward Bathtub Reef Beach.

Tern time

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A committee of terns on a dock, Indian River Lagoon, Hutchinson Island side. That’s the bridge between Hutchinson Island and Sewall’s Point in the distance.

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The Royal Terns look a lot bigger than the Sandwich Terns, when they are right next to each other.

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It was around 8:30 a.m. I wonder if they spent the night “roosting” on this tern-popular dock.

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One or two would fly off south now and then.

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I think that’s a juvenile Laughing Gull. The Royal Tern looks pretty big next to a gull too.

Gulls and terns (and skimmers) are in the same family, Laridae.

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Laridae is a family of seabirds in the order Charadriiformes that includes the gulls, terns and skimmers. It includes around 100 species arranged into 22 genera. They are an adaptable group of mostly aerial birds found worldwide.

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Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns in this pic, both in the genus Thalasseus… from the Greek Thalassa, meaning “sea.”

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The big Royal Terns are Thalasseus maximus and the smaller Sandwich Terns are Thalasseus sandvicensis.

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Thalasseus terns feed by plunge-diving for fish, almost invariably from the sea. They usually dive directly, and not from the “stepped-hover” favoured by, for example, the Arctic tern. The offering of fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display.

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These species have long thin sharp bills, usually a shade of yellow or orange except in the Sandwich tern and Cabot’s tern where the bills are black with yellow tips in most subspecies. All species have a shaggy crest. In winter, the Thalasseus terns’ foreheads become white.

 

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“Sandwich” refers to Sandwich, Kent, England where they were first described and classified by ornithologist John Latham in 1787.

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Collective nouns for our fine feathered Thalasseus friends?

thespruce.com: A cotillion of terns.

nzbirds.com: A highness of Royal Terns and a hogey of Sandwich Terns!

Country Life: a committee of terns.

As author Chloe Rhodes explains in An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns, unlike proverbs, rhymes or homilies, many of these words endure because they were recorded and published in Books of Courtesy handbooks designed to educate the nobility. ‘They were created and perpetuated as a means of marking out the aristocracy from the less well-bred masses,’ she writes.

Reddish Egret at Bathtub Reef

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Looking south to Bathtub Reef Beach, south end of Hutchinson Island, Stuart, Florida this morning.

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A heron appeared.

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And posed.

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The blue-gray feathers were ever so slightly pinkish in the morning light and I wondered, is this a young Reddish Egret?

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The pale eye caught my eye.

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It was uncharacteristically mellow for a Reddish Egret. Maybe it had eaten breakfast already. Or it was wary of me and a few other people around. I did not go too close.

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I even moved further out into the water and reef rocks to get the light on the feathers.

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I wasn’t sure what it was, but knew I could check when I got home. So I just took a bunch of photos and enjoyed the morning sunshine, sparkling water and bird life.

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Reddish Egrets are uncommon in this area. And they are the rarest egret species in North America.

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They are a state-designated Threatened species.

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Audubon.org

Reportedly not seen in Florida between 1927 and 1937, but numbers have gradually increased under complete protection. Current United States population roughly 2000 pairs.

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Reddish Egret Working Group: Distribution

The Reddish Egret is the rarest and least known of the egrets and herons of North America. The species occurs within a narrow latitudinal range extending east from the Baja California peninsula, including the Gulf of California, the Yucatan Peninsula, the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico to peninsular Florida and islands in the Caribbean basin, namely Bahamas and Cuba. The global population is estimated to be 7,000-9,000 individuals, with 3,500 to 4,250 breeding pairs. The Reddish Egret represents an international resource, with Mexico and the U.S. supporting equally the bulk of the global breeding population, complemented by a number of Central American and Caribbean nations. Despite its broad range, the Reddish Egret occupies a restricted belt of coastal habitat, is patchily distributed and has a relatively small and declining global population. Accordingly there is broad international consensus that the Reddish Egret is in need of active conservation attention.

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I feel lucky to have seen this bird today!